Heard around the West

  Mountain guide Forrest McCarthy told us he had learned a valuable lesson recently: Assume nothing - absolutely nothing. He learned that while leading a couple up a mountain in Grand Teton National Park. The range, he told them, is a 40-mile-long block fault into which glaciers, over the eons, had carved the mountain peaks above and lakes spread out below.

He was rather pleased with his short course in geology until one client said: "Wouldn't it have been neat to have been an Indian and seen that happen?"

Everyone has their own definition of a good day. A 13-year-old Buddhist lama in Wyoming who lives uneasily with locals says he considers it "a good day when some goof in a pickup truck doesn't try to run me over." Pema Jones was born in India to a Tibetan mother and American father and lived in a monastery until he was 7. But he doesn't tell his school friends that, or that he is one of the youngest teachers of Buddhism in America, and that Buddhism professes nonviolence. In fact, Harper's magazine tells us, he has joined a gang for protection. As he explains it, "Some skinhead doesn't care whether I'm Tibetan or Chinese. He just wants to stomp my head."

Lest we sound too downbeat about Wyoming, we offer this entrepreneurial tidbit about a coal miner turned successful lingerie-maker, from the Casper Star-Tribune. Toni Yount in Gillette, who calls her business Ty West, started sewing underwear with a Western flavor in her garage; now she's moved to a storefront factory. Items like lacy chaps are her specialty, and coming soon is "camouflage lingerie to tap into the hunting market."

Everyone seems to pick on California - even Californians. After the folks at Disney announced they were planning to build a theme park near Disneyland called California Adventure, Los Angeles Times columnist Peter H. King pounced, saying this created the potential for a lot of swell rides. His "River Run!" would allow visitors to sprint across a cement river bottom, clamber onto battered pickups and then outrun immigration agents. But tourists better be quick: "Those caught will be bused back to the starting line." Another ride would recreate the 1960s in San Francisco. Visitors would be strapped into Volkswagen Beetles and "handed little pieces of paper to lick. Ride time will vary from 90 minutes to four days." And what would a California theme park be without a ride called "Suburbia'? The LA Times version would shepherd families into their own tiny backyard, c. 1955, to grill hot dogs and swat mosquitos that would be released overhead every half-hour.

Whatever you do this summer, try not to get in the Police Blotter published by the Moab, Utah, Times-Independent, especially as a victim. When an out-of-state visitor reported that her $1,000 diamond pendant had been stolen from her motel room, the paper said: "I guess nobody told her that we wear cheap jewelry in Moab."

Last year, trucker Devin Williams was piloting an 18-wheeler through Arizona when he veered off the highway and bumped his way overland toward the remote Mogollon Rim. There, he startled campers by talking loudly to a tree and waving a $20 bill. "'They" made me do it," he explained to a deputy sheriff. Then he disappeared. Recently the Arizona Republic interviewed a man who says he knows what happened. Charlie Green of Tucson, who boasts 16 alien encounters in 55 years, says 28-year-old Williams just happened to have the right stuff. "They take the semen from the males and the ovaries from females, and mix it with alien juice to make a half-breed," he says. What he doesn't understand is why Williams hasn't come back. A planning consultant in Durango, Colo., might have the answer. Michael Lauer told a planning workshop at the local high school that "extraterrestrial growth is an important element of Durango's future." Reader Carrie Landis, who noted this in the Durango Herald, says she always thought it was Californians who were booming the town.

Wild animals turning up in unpredictable places are a staple of small-town journalism, and two headlines caught our eye this summer: "Bathing bruin invades shower stall" and "Porcupines feast on brake fluid." In Montana, the bear startled a soaped-up Glacier Park employee by joining him in the shower. "A very paranoid" Brian Bachman said afterward that the black bear needed a bath: "I could smell it after it walked out," reports the Hungry Horse News. In South Dakota, "peculiar porcupines," as the Rapid City Journal called them, have a penchant for climbing under cars in a campground, then gnawing their way through brake lines to get at the yummy liquid. This can cause problems for unsuspecting drivers, said a staffer with the Forest Service: "If people get in their car in the morning and start down the canyon and suddenly don't have brakes, it's a real hazard."

*Betsy Marston

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or HCNVIRO@aol.com